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J Mol Evol. 2005 Dec;61(6):742-57. Epub 2005 Nov 2.

Evolutionary relationships and protein domain architecture in an expanded calpain superfamily in kinetoplastid parasites.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Hull, Hull, HU6 7RX, UK.


Employing whole-genome analysis we have characterized a large family of genes coding for calpain-related proteins in three kinetoplastid parasites. We have defined a total of 18 calpain-like sequences in Trypanosoma brucei, 27 in Leishmania major, and 24 in Trypanosoma cruzi. Sequence characterization revealed a well-conserved protease domain in most proteins, although residues critical for catalytic activity were frequently altered. Many of the proteins contain a novel N-terminal sequence motif unique to kinetoplastids. Furthermore, 24 of the sequences contain N-terminal fatty acid acylation motifs indicating association of these proteins with intracellular membranes. This extended family of proteins also includes a group of sequences that completely lack a protease domain but is specifically related to other kinetoplastid calpain-related proteins by a highly conserved N-terminal domain and by genomic organization. All sequences lack the C-terminal calmodulin-related calcium-binding domain typical of most mammalian calpains. Our analysis emphasizes the highly modular structure of calpains and calpain-like proteins, suggesting that they are involved in diverse cellular functions. The discovery of this surprisingly large family of calpain-like proteins in lower eukaryotes that combines novel and conserved sequence modules contributes to our understanding of the evolution of this abundant protein family.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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